September 08, 2006

To be or not to be in the Indian team…

The Kuala Lumpur tri-series between India, Australia and West India will be a nifty warm-up for the Champions Trophy starting 7th October - where India and Australia play each other in Group A (that also includes England and one more qualifier); West Indies however, has to first play the qualifiers along with Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh.

Of course, all this is a month later. India can taste first blood in the series starting September 12th. And while Dravid, Sehwag, Yuvraj and Tendulkar pick themselves on either stature or form; the same is not true for the others – Kaif (after being manipulated endlessly) scored regularly v/s the West Indies (ODIs) but was slow, scratchy and did not effect the final result; Raina after announcing his arrival with some match defining knocks, slashed one too many outside off – and gifted his wicket away. While both Kaif and Raina are exceptional fielders and swift between the wickets, Raina is arguably the more gifted batsman (not just with his dismissals). Kaif to his credit has pretty much seen it all (from the Natwest victory to his inexplicable exclusions in tests). And his eyes have a hunger like no other Indian batsman.

Kaif though does not bowl and Raina may only be considered after part-timers Sachin, Sehwag and Yuvraj have been seriously mauled. Which brings good old Dinesh Mongia into the equation – forgotten after the last World Cup, his success with Leicestershire (with both bat and ball) got him back into the blue. A cool catcher in the outfield, Mongia can also bowl flat left arm spin – should be useful in WC 07, after seeing Gayle and Samuels thwart the Indians with similar innocuous bowling. Too bad Ganguly didn’t score any in his county sojourn; who knows he could have been a serious contender – from 30 down to 15. But then, batting yourself into form isn’t easy when the whole world’s bowling short-pitched stuff at you.

Leaving Dada behind, and back to selecting the India XI - Sachin, Sehwag (opening), followed by Dravid, Yuvraj, Dinesh Mongia (at least in the first couple of games to test his match form), Kaif (going by the trend in the West Indies will get a look-in) – which means 6 batsmen, followed by Dhoni as wicket keeper batsman. That means 7 players out of 11 from the squad of 15 for KL. Now, what about the other 4?

Ajit Agarkar, the best bowler in the Windies may be the only sure-shot starter, but stranger things have happened in Chappell Raj. And while Bajji is India’s premier slow bowler, off late the wickets have eluded him. Powar, the other spin option was too slow, too flighted in the Caribbean, and was hammered by Gayle & Co.

As for the other medium pacers, it’ll be the by now familiar rotational policy – Munaf Patel (going by his recent form) should get a look in the first couple of games. As also, would Pathan after his long break in the West Indies.

It now appears more and more likely that if India is going to do an encore of the 1983 World Cup, it will be with the all-round players (and not all-rounders, for India has none) And for India to be serious contenders, Mohinder Amarnath, Roger Binny, Madan Lal will have to reappear in new avatars.

That India is building towards this goal with unsung heroes like Powar, Mongia and Agarkar, instead of supposed A-listers like Zaheer Khan, Saurav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and Anil Kumble is both brave and laudable.

The trials for India’s final World Cup team may not be over, but all the telltale signs are there – many players have already been eliminated and the short-list can only get shorter. By the end of the KL series, barring rain and incident, a few more players will get the hint – one way or the other. And seeing that India will play Australia at least twice (and with McGrath back) it’s not going to be easy on anyone. Also, the 4-1 ODI defeat in the West Indies will stare them in the face again– as will Gayle, Sarwan and Lara - and that crazy voodoo that some teams and players seem to have on team India.

Right now though it’s like one of those Limited Period Sales – and each player needs to pick all the runs and wickets he can. There’s a flight to catch in March 2007. And the tickets are going to be handed out soon. Any day now, they could be released. But before that, they need to create some real theatre with the bat ball.

Squad for Champions Trophy: Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Munaf Patel, RP Singh, Ramesh Powar, Harbhajan Singh, Dinesh Mongia.

Squad for Malaysia tri-series: Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni, Irfan Pathan, Ajit Agarkar, Munaf Patel, RP Singh, Ramesh Powar, Harbhajan Singh, Dinesh Mongia, Sreesanth

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